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Inside the shadowy underground of 'anything, anywhere' cloud-based printing

Melissa Riofrio | Feb. 13, 2013
Cloud-connected printers are everywhere, but how hard is it to collect your paperwork? We went to a private school and Twitter's corporate office to find out.

To avoid rejection, choose skeptically

Two hours into my cloud-printing journey, I was batting one-for-four. And the rejection mostly continued, as I tried other hotels and offices listed in my directories. An Internet café worked, but how many of those are left? Some places noted, as Twitter did, that they were no longer offering cloud printing, usually because no one was using it. A sympathetic concierge at one hotel suggested that I go across the street to a FedEx Office store: "They have Internet printing there," he said.

Indeed they do, as I already knew from my directories. FedEx Office stores are visible in HP's ePrint mobile app. I could email a document from the app to a chosen FedEx Office store for pickup. The app was a little confusing, though: It didn't show the address of the store on my phone, and downtown San Francisco has many FedEx Office stores.

When I got to the right one, the store manager initially thought I was asking about a custom-print job. After I showed him my phone screen, he led me to one of the self-service printers. As I printed my job, the manager commented that he had never seen anyone use the service.

Staples participates in EFI's PrintMe program, and I could see a nearby retail location on my phone's PrintMe app. A long table of Windows 8 laptops greeted me at the door, staring up at me hopefully. I could almost hear them whispering, "Hey, big spender--spend a little time with me!"

Safely past them, I saw big signs promoting cloud printing. Staples covers a lot of bases, as you can also print from Dropbox and Google Drive, or a USB key drive. I, however, was looking for the job I'd just emailed using PrintMe. At the print and copy desk, a staffer directed me to a self-service printer. As I printed and paid, the staffer noted that few people have ever used the service.

Is cloud printing for the 'burbs?

My last cloud-printing experiment took me out of the city and into the deep suburbs of Silicon Valley--namely, Palo Alto, where a neighborhood library is helping to test a Google Cloud Print public site. The library's webpage instructs you to go to the library to get the URL for the printer. On-site, the URL is prominently displayed at the main desk and at the always-busy computer stations.

The librarians had to ask one another whether the Google Cloud Print printer was working. Once they had confirmed that, it was easy to type in the printer's URL and click a button to add the printer to my Google account. I printed a couple of email messages, and the machine responded immediately.


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